Category: therapy

How to pick the ideal therapy pet for your child or teen

How to pick the ideal therapy pet for your child or teen

“A pet is an island of sanity in what appears to be an insane world. Whether a dog, cat, bird, fish, turtle, or what have you, one can rely upon the fact that one’s pet will always remain a faithful, intimate, non-competitive friend, regardless of the good or ill fortune life brings us.”
–Boris Levinson, PsyD, Child Psychologist

Any animal can be a therapy pet, but put thought into finding the ideal pet

therapy catIt depends on your child’s individual needs and his or her innate appreciation of or connection with the creature.  Parents often think of furry animals like dogs or cats or “pocket pets” as the best therapy animals.  Dogs and cats are the most common, but they are not the only effective options.  (And some are problematic:  perhaps a family dog or cat is of no interest to your child, or is stressful because its behavior–easily agitated cats and chronically fussy dogs aren’t therapeutic!

What fascinates your child? What do they want–what creature(s) are they drawn to?  And are you willing to take care of this pet?  Your child’s therapy pet is not a lesson in responsibility… though that may be an outcome someday.  The pet is a therapist first, not a teaching tool.  Since you may be the responsible one, the pet must work for your needs and household too.

The right creature will reduce your child’s stress and continually delight them in some way.

Dogs and cats

Under the best circumstances, the right dog or cat will choose your child, calming them down or drawing them out of their shell. Dogs and cats are ideal for symptoms of anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, or depression. The right dog or cat is calm, loyal, and patient, and helps an insecure child or one who can’t handle emotional demands. Dogs also support physical exercise, and provide opportunities for significant life lessons.

True story – Some juvenile prison systems have dog programs, where the inmate is assigned a troubled shelter dog to train and teach appropriate dog behavior. Young inmates often empathize with a dog’s abuse history, and training the dog helps them learn patience, forbearance, and anger management.  The trained dogs are them adopted out to the community.  A program I personally know about has had very positive outcomes.

Pocket pets

Pocket pets help children who like touch, and bring out a child’s nurturing side. Small animals can also be playful and amusing–ferrets have especially silly antics.  It’s important the pet likes to be held, but it’s also important to prevent it from escaping and hiding. Their small size and habitat needs are better for small living spaces, and they can go anywhere with the child in a small carrier.  A concern may be their shorter lifespans. Is your child able to handle loss and learn from it?

Birds

Birds are smart ‘pocket pets’ and very loyal to the person they bond with.  A bird that’s purchased young or been hand-fed as a chick is tame and will readily perch on a child’s shoulder or finger… or happily hide out in a pocket.  Most birds can be taught words, whistles, or even songs in human language.  They are pretty, charming, highly interactive, and long-lived.  Birds are good for depressed children who need energy and stimulation, and children with ADHD who need attention and interaction.  Like a pocket pet, a bird can also travel with a child in a small carrier.

Reptiles

Reptiles aren’t often considered as therapy pets, but reptile lovers will tell you that they are indeed therapeutic and have inidividual personalities. Most are quite beautiful. Many like to be held and carried.

“She fell asleep in my shirt and nobody saw her. I noticed I was able to communicate with other people without problems. When I started to feel anxiety I put my hand over her and it calmed me downI was able to go in [a store], do what I needed to do and get out without a panic attack.”
–Teen with social anxiety disorder speaking about her Bearded Dragon.

Ask if a pet store will allow your child to hold one of their reptiles for sale.  Common pet store lizards that are good for children are:  leopard geckos, bearded dragons, and iguanas (which need lots of handling at first).  Like other small animals, reptiles can escape. Turtles are usually easy to find, but not lizards or snakes.  There are lizard leashes on the market for this reason.  Most snakes available on the market like to be held, or will accept it if handled often.

Fish

Beautiful calming aquariums are excellent sources of visual delight and serenity. There is a reason aquariums are placed in waiting rooms and in psychiatric hospital settings.  They provide gentle entrancing movement in a miniature natural world—they are healing like Nature is healing.  An aquarium is good for children with intense anxiety they can’t express, often with schizophrenic or autistic symptoms.  The soft bubbling sound can be calming because it is steady and hides noises that may overstimulate a child who’s grappling with a stream of upsetting thoughts.  Read more about “calming rooms” and how visual and audio environments help children with tantrums, “Calming room ideas to prevent tantrums in autism and other disorders.”

Insects (yes, insects)

I have two stories about therapy with insects

True story – A depressed 9-year-old boy was regularly teased at school, then came home to a single mother who was always too distracted by dating concerns to spend time with him. His father found a second wife and started a new family and showed little interest in him.  The boy was smart and very interested in science.  He befriended a neighbor who kept hissing cockroaches to feed her lizards, and he would visit often and ask to hold a roach and pet it to make it hiss.  The neighbor allowed the boy to borrow one to take to school for show-and-tell, which he brought along in a plastic container.  The students were both fearful and intensely curious about this giant roach.  Except for the squeamish, everyone wanted to pet it to make it hiss.  He became the coolest kid in class.  His teacher was impressed because he told the story about hissing cockroaches, where they were from, and how they were part of a forest ecosystem.  He stopped being teased, and his teacher gave him more attention with science studies… all thanks to a lowly roach.

True story – An 11–year-old boy with ADHD found a praying mantis in his backyard and picked it up. He knew from school it wouldn’t bite, and that it caught and ate other insects.  He wandered around nearby homes looking for bugs to feed it.  When he caught something, he enjoyed watching the mantis snatch the bug from his finger and eat it with gross crunching sounds and goo…. awesome for a kid like him. He was allowed to keep the mantis in an empty aquarium. As Nature has it, it died in the Fall. His parents, however, purchased mantis eggs from a nursery to populate the yard the next summer. When they hatched, the boy spent hours amusing himself by finding and feeding the baby mantis population,and watching them grow to adulthood.  It reduced the hours he’d spend indoors on video games,and connected him with nature outdoors.

 

–Margaret

Take this parenting skills test if you have a troubled child

Take this parenting skills test if you have a troubled child

So how are you doing in your difficult parenting job?  Score your parenting skills on a test designed for parents of children ages 11-15.  This is intended for parents of ‘normal’ children, so you may skip 5, 6, and 7. (If you are brave, have someone else score you too and compare results.)

Parenting Skills Test – printable form

Don’t be hard on yourself if you score low.  Only a “perfect” parent will have an excellent score… and they wouldn’t need to read this blog!

What did you learn?  What are the skills where you scored lowest?  Focus on them.  Troubled kids need to be parented differently.  What you’ve learned by watching skilled parents may not apply to you.  You might be thinking:  “I agree these are good parenting skills, but practicing them is impossible with my child. They hate/defy/scream/fill-in-the-blank constantly.” Suggestion:  Work on one skill at a time, and take the test again in few weeks to see if you’ve improved your score. 

Be and kind forgiving of yourself if you score low

When my child was young and I was stressed, I would have had a low score and fallen in the “Keep trying” group.  My child’s mental health so poor, and she was so at-risk, I could only focus on safety and live one day at a time.

Why 3 of the items don’t apply for parents with mentally ill children, IMHO

#5  “I let natural consequences do the teaching whenever feasible.”  In my case, natural consequences could always be serious and unsafe.  This would have been very unwise.
#6  “I am confident my child has everything she/he needs to make good decisions.”  No way.  They cannot make good decisions when they are irrational–that’s the problem.
#7  “I allow my child to do his/her chores without reminding.”  I gave up on chores.  It was one battle I didn’t have to fight.  It was much easier doing them myself and knowing they’d be done.

Please add a comment if you have found other skills to be effective,

–Margaret

Outlook for schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia

Outlook for schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia

How Schizoaffective Disorder compares to other disorders

There is little information about schizoaffective disorder in children, which usually starts around puberty.  As a parent, you know how seriously it affects your child, but how does it compare to depression and bipolar (manic and depressive states) and schizophrenia?  What is the course of schizoaffective disorder, and how can you help your child’s future?

Schizoaffective disorder is not as serious as schizophrenia,
but more serious than bipolar/depression.

Research conducted in Britain* studied young people who received typical treatment for schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar/depression who were between the ages of 17 and 30 (average age was 22).  Over a 10 year period, those with schizoaffective disorder improved slightly, better than those with schizophrenia.

Outlook for schizoaffective disorderBehavioral functioning over time for schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia and affective disorders (depression, bipolar) at four consecutive follow-ups.  (This scale goes from 2 (good) to 6 (poor). A “1” would be the level of a person with no symptoms and who is considered normal.)
*M. Harrow, L. Grossman, Herbener, E. Davies; The British Journal of PsychiatryNov 2000, 177 (5) 421-426

Behavioral functioning is measured by how well a person does in five areas:Russian brain diagram

  1. Work and social functioning
  2. Adjustment to typical life situations
  3. Capacity for self-care
  4. Appearance of major symptoms
  5. Number of relapses and re-hospitalizations.

Your child will struggle with these, but there’s good news according to a recent landmark study:
Family support improves a patient’s outcome.

Life with a schizoaffective teen,” tells my story, and what steps I discovered which worked to improve my daughter’s functioning and behavior.  This article also provides insights into how children with schizoaffective disorder think.

A new treatment program was developed that altered some well-established practices.  A set of schizophrenia patients received the following support and were later compared with those who had the usual medication approach.

  1. Dosages of antipsychotic medication were kept as low as possible
  2. Help with work or school such as assistance in deciding which classes or opportunities are most appropriate, given a person’s symptoms;
  3. Education for family members to increase their understanding of the disorder;
    (“Efforts to engage and collaborate with family members are often successful during an acute psychotic episode, whether it is the first episode or a relapse, and are strongly recommended.
    Family Involvement Strongly Recommended by the American Psychiatric Association)
  4. One-on-one talk therapy in which the person with the diagnosis learns tools to build social relationships, reduce substance use and help manage the symptoms.”

Patients who went through this for of treatment made greater strides in recovery over the first two years of treatment than patients who got the usual drug-focused care.  More here.
New Approach Advised to Treat Schizophrenia, Benedict Carey, New York Times, Oct. 20, 2015

“..if you look at the people who did the best—those we caught earliest after their first break with reality—their improvement by the end was easily noticeable by friends and family.”

beautifulbrainThe longer psychotic symptoms stay in an extreme phase,” in which patients become afraid and deeply suspicious,” the more likely the person will be vulnerable to recurring psychosis, and the more difficulty they will have coming out of it and adjusting to normal life.

How to help your child

Be very realistic about what your child can handle in school.  They may be extremely intelligent–but maybe can’t handle too much homework; or class disruptions; or lack of empathy from the teacher.  A parent or school counselor should help your child find low-stress classes or activities, and consider limiting the number of classes per day.  They can only hold it together for so long!  I found it helped my schizoaffective child to take later classes, starting at 10 or 11 am.

Get the whole family on board to make his or her life easier.  Your child might be stressful and a source of irritation for everyone, but family members can help reduce this by taking on the chores your troubled child would ordinarily do; avoid pressuring them about something, or anything; and allow your child to say oddball things without confronting them about how irrational they are or arguing with them.

DIY talk therapy – Here are some ways to guide your child out of their troubled states.

Anxiety

  •  psychosisSchizoaffective kids may express anxiety in a tangled web of seemingly unrelated things, and spike them with paranoia about what they mean. Listen carefully, and conduct a gentle interview to explore what truly is bothering them.  It may be as simple as the room being too cold.
  • Give them plenty of time (if you can). A venting session is sometimes all they need.
  • Diplomatically redirect a negative monologue with a comment about something else more positive. This is where it’s useful to hand them a cat or call over a dog, offer tea or juice, or briefly check email.  The point is to break the spell.

Run-on obsessive thoughts

  • Voices and thoughts can be angry, mean, and relentless. Your child may not tell you this is happening, or may simply assume you already know what’s in their head.  Ask him or her if thoughts or voices are pestering them.  If so, show indignation at how wrong it is for them to mistreat your child, “that’s not right that this is happening to you; this is so unfair to you; you deserve better; I want to help if I can…”
  • Encourage your child to ignore the voices/thoughts and they may go away, or encourage them to tell the voices/thoughts to leave them alone. “I refuse to listen to you anymore!”  “Quit pestering me!”   “Back off and leave me alone, you jerk!”  Negative thoughts and voices are just bullies.

Help your child stand up to thought/voice bullies the same as
as you would help any child dealing with a bully.  Seriously, this works.

Life with a schizoaffective teen,” tells my story, and what I discovered that worked to improve my daughter’s functioning and behavior.  It also provides insight into how people with this disorder think.

Take care and have hope.  You can do this.

Margaret